US Marine Scout Sniper Team, Task Force Tarawa, Battle of Nasiriyah, Iraq, 2003

Marine Scout-Sniper team - The Battle of Nasiriyah was the start of a descend into chaos. It was best synthesized in a little-known, but bloody battle, fought in an obscure dusty part of Iraq on day three of the war. It was a battle that America nearly lost.

US Marine Scout Sniper portraiture

Marine Scout-Sniper/Spotter portraiture

This figure utilizes the Very Hot "Sniper in the Jungle" release - a misnomer as the outfit befits a circa 2003 USMC sniper in Iraq during Gulf War 2. The Iraqi 23rd Infantry Brigade was engaged mainly by 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and attached elements and the Marines were ordered to wear their woodland camo-pattern chemical protective Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suits over their regular utility uniform for protection against a possible chemical attack.

The Very Hot set is an alternative to Hoy Toy's earlier Gulf War 2 Sniper, however instead of the NBC MOPP suit, the suit is ECWS (very heavy on the brown coloured patterns rather than green) and has a gortex feel - which it should not have. The MICH helmet should of course be replaced by the LWH or akin to PASGT as seen in photos here. The night vision attachment was glued off center on my MICH helmet which also lacks the inner shell (some have commented that it sits like a wok). I would have liked some attention paid to the finishing of certain items like the plastic buckle clasps which require snipping/clipping to get rid of the extraneous plastic 'flash'... and believe me, there's quite a fair bit to do. Weapon requires weathering but any customiser will weather it anyway, however the mold seams are heavy and need sanding down. Ammo pouch straps appear too long and would need to be adjusted. The elastic on the goggles was way too short and burst when stretched over the helmet - these were replaced by the excellent goggles from Crazy Dummy while reusing the original Very Hot tan-coloured goggle protection sleeve. The tongue of the plastic boots were cut with some device which left a black dirty residue when fitted onto the figure's feet.

The M-40A3 sniper rifle fully replaced the M-40A1 by late 2004. The M-40A3 was tested in 1996 and was finally issued as an official Marine Corps weapon in 2000. During the rifle testing, surveys showed shooters enjoyed greater accuracy and increased comfort. As with the M-40A1, the M-40A3 is a bolt-action, manually operated, magazine-fed, air-cooled, shoulder-fired weapon with an optical scope. However, the M-40A3 has an adjustable cheek piece and recoil pad on the butt stock, giving the shooter the chance to position the weapon more comfortably. Designed to shoot beyond 1,000 yards, the sniper rifle uses special rounds - the M118LR, chambered in 7.62mm. The fibreglass stock M-40A3 uses the rail system like the M4, allowing snipers to change out a fixed 10-power scope for an ANPVS-10 night scope.

US Marines Scout Sniper

Scout Snipers are Infantry Marines skilled in long-range marksmanship from concealed locations. Their primary mission is to conduct close reconnaissance and surveillance operations in order to gain intelligence on the enemy and the terrain. Scout Snipers must earn the rank of Lance Corporal and be selected by their battalion in order to move into this specialty.

Requirements vary by battalion, but riflemen who qualify may be selected for training after successfully completing a two-week indoctrination course. After several weeks of initial training, they may still need to pass the Scout Sniper Basic Course at Quantico, Va. to earn a position in a Scout Sniper platoon.

A Scout Sniper platoon works directly for the battalion commander.  They may be tasked to provide support to maneuver units or may operate separately.

US Marine scout sniper team - this sniper is literally working in tandem with his spotter. There is a wealth of detail in the personal gear of the snipers which in turn inspired me to create my own sniper team. Note the absence of upper sleeve pockets on the NBC suit. The old sniper rifle, the M-40A1 is seen here. Some shooters still like the old rifle. "I'd rather shoot the M-40A1," said Sgt. Andrew C. Giermann, a reconnaissance and surveillance instructor with I Marine Expeditionary Force. "It's lighter than the M-40A3, making it much easier to maneuver." "The M-40A3 is more of a defense weapon," said Staff Sgt. Van Seelay, chief reconnaissance and surveillance instructor with I MEF. "It's basically a bench-rest weapon, and the M-40A1 is an offensive weapon because it's a lot easier to employ." Source: Image from public source

Scout Snipers include:
Spotter: 
Detects, observes and confirms sniper targets, calculates the range and wind conditions on a given target, conducts reconnaissance and surveillance.

Sniper: Delivers long-range precision fires on selected targets, conducts reconnaissance and surveillance.

Source


Very Hot: Complete Gulf War 2 sniper outfit with heavily modified Dragon PAGST helmet with 3 color 'coffee stain' cover and NVG mount and repainted OD chin straps. Original Very Hot goggles replaced by Crazy Dummy goggles with Very Hot tan goggles-cover. Strap-modified ammo-pouches filled with M4 30 round magazines by Playhouse.

The LC2 Canteen with OD pouch, Woodland Buttpack V2 clip are by Dragon. 3 color desert camo Camelback by Toys City (not too sure how that hose was connected to the water-bladder though!).

Copious amounts of weathering pastels were used, judiciously applied layer by layer. I used Tamiya Weathering Masters and MIG production desert mud pastels.

Battle of Nasiriyah

On March 23rd, 2003, when Marines from Task Force Tarawa approached the dusty town of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, they were tasked to take two key bridges to open up a route to Baghdad, a seemingly routine maneuver. Nasiriyah was a town that rebelled against Saddam Hussein during Gulf War 1 and US intelligence had suggested that as soon as the Americans rolled into town, the city’s defenders would lay down their weapons and, as one Marine commander expressed it, “put flowers in our gun barrels, hold up their babies for us to kiss and give us the keys to the city.”

Nasiriyah was a major population center and was situated at a confluence of all the Army and Marine forces going into Iraq. A railroad, several highways, and two major waterways converged in or around the city. There were two sets of bridges, or “crossing sites,” in Nasiriyah. These bridges spanned the Euphrates River in the southern section of the city, as did the Saddam Canal, which ran along its northern border. The western bridge over the Euphrates (the “southwestern bridge”) and the western bridge over the Saddam Canal (the “northwestern bridge”) were at either end of a route that would take vehicles through the most built-up, densely populated sector of the city. There was a risk that securing those bridges might involve the task force being drawn unnecessarily into intense urban fighting. Instead, Task Force Tarawa was to seize the eastern bridge over the Euphrates (“southeastern bridge”) and the eastern bridge over the Saddam Canal (“northeastern bridge”). Connecting these two bridges was a stretch of road four kilometers long that Army planners had nicknamed “Ambush Alley” based on the possibility of an ambush of any Coalition forces attempting to use it. Despite the foreboding moniker, few expected determined enemy resistance in Nasiriyah. Source. Images from public sources
FMC AAV-7A1 Amphibious Assault Vehicle C211 approaches burning 507th vehicles. Source: militaryhistoryonline.com

But when Task Force Tarawa’s lead units reached the outskirts they came across the burnt out remnants of several vehicles of the US Army’s 507th Maintenance Company. A captain in the 507th told wide-eyed Marine commanders how his convoy had taken a wrong turn at night, driven into Nasiriyah and been attacked by Iraqi fighters. Eleven soldiers of the the ill-fated US 507th Maintenance Company were killed that morning, with five captured including a young army private, Jessica Lynch and a dozen more injured.

Burning 507th vehicle. Source: militaryhistoryonline.com

Tim Pritchard, author of Ambush Alley writes:

As Marine units moved into Nasiriyah they were attacked by massed numbers of Iraqi fighters. To the surprise of Marines on the ground, few of the Iraqi combatants seemed to be wearing military uniforms. Many were dressed in the distinctive black pyjamas worn by Shia moslems and much of the gunfire came from dwellings flying black flags denoting them as Shia homes. And yet the Shias were supposed to be on the Americans’ side.

What’s more, as the Marines were drawn into a raging battle in the city center, more and more people seemed to come out of ordinary homes to take up arms. One group of young Marines, who became separated from the rest of their unit and were forced to commandeer a house in the middle of the city, found themselves under attack for several hours from what appeared to be armed civilians. They had been expecting to fight Iraqi soldiers. Instead they found themselves shooting at old men, women, even children.

Of course there were fanatical Sunni fedayeen troops and desperate foreign fighters who fought that day. But some of those who picked up weapons were also civilians intent on defending homes against foreign invaders. The potent and complex mix of insurgency; Sunni and Shia militants, foreign fighters and civilians, that causes such chaos in Iraq today, was already apparent during the battle of Nasiriyah.

Torrential rain in the desert! Images from public sources

Intelligence about the terrain was also sorely lacking. Marine tanks spearheading the maneuver took a route that led to a marshy bog where they sank, mired uselessly in thick mud, while the battle raged. It’s more than just a metaphor for coalition forces getting bogged down, post-invasion, in towns like Fallujah and Samarra. It was the product of a rush to arms without adequate intelligence or planning.

At one stage, in a “friendly fire” incident, US Air Force planes fired at Marines on the ground killing up to ten of them. Radio communications repeatedly failed. Units lost contact with each other and went missing in the city. Faced with an increasingly determined enemy, Marine commanders thought they might just lose the battle. It showed another truth, obscured during the march to Baghdad, but that has become strikingly apparent since. There is a limit to what armor and technology can do against a people with faith, who fight because they feel their country has been violated.

But what was most striking at Nasiriyah in those very early days of the war was the absence of that grand coalescence of freedom deprived Iraqis who were to come forward and support coalition forces. At best, civilians stood by and watched the American war machine thunder into town. At worst, they ran to arms staches, grabbed AK47s and took to the streets. And that did not bode well for life in post-invasion Iraq. Instead of coming together, Iraqis would fall back into their faiths and tribes and end up killing coalition forces, and each other.

Eighteen Marines died in Nasiriyah that day in what turned out to be the bloodiest phase of the Iraq war. Four days later the city was finally declared secure. One week after that, American forces triumphantly entered Baghdad and helped topple Saddam’s statue. Everyone lauded the speed and efficiency with which US forces had fought their way to Baghdad. And the trauma of Nasiriyah was forgotten.

And that was a shame. If the intelligence from Nasiriyah had been gathered, recognised, and analysed more soberly early on, instead of trampled on in a rush of triumphalism, the lessons learned might have shown coalition forces a more realistic approach to the challenges of stabilising and rebuilding Iraq. Instead, we got a hubristic speech from President Bush from the deck of the USS Lincoln where he announced the end of major combat operations against the backdrop of a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.”

Generation Kill is a 2008 HBO television series which follows the first Marine invasion into Iraq in March of 2003, and is based on the book "Generation Kill." The author, Evan Wright, learned his story as embedded reporter in Iraq working for Rolling Stone. The show didn't depict every Marine as selfless and willing to die for his or her country. Instead, most were young, restless men and women living in largely substandard conditions and partially unprepared for an invasion. Their direct perspective is given through a Rolling Stone reporter embedded in the unit. Vietnam vet Steve Spriggs, an avid viewer of Generation Kill, attests to its accuracy. "I would say most of it is (accurate). It's embellished, of course. I don't know that they get lost very often, because the equipment is very good over there … (But) when travelling in big convoys, like they were, there are a lot of people, and mistakes do happen." source

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